Turkey’s drones win friends from Azerbaijan to the UAE

Turkey delivered 120 Bayraktar drones to the UAE last week, despite a history of tensions between the two countries. The move is an example of how technology is a powerful diplomatic tool for President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s regime.

The UAE and Turkey have waged proxy wars against each other in Libya, Egypt and the Horn of Africa. Notably, the UAE had provided Chinese drones to one side of the Libyan war of 2019-2020, while Turkey had provided Bayraktar drones to the other side.

The Turkish state has also previously accused the United Arab Emirates of taking part in a 2016 coup attempt in an attempt to overthrow it. But relations have improved over the past year, and the sale of the drones could mark a crucial turning point in that shift.

The UAE has hosted a Turkish mafia boss, Sedat Peker, who has made a series of explosive videos exposing alleged corruption within Erdogan’s government. Last month, Peker released a video that led to the resignation of two Erdogan aides. According to reports, authorities in the United Arab Emirates recently warned Peker to restrict his online activities. The fact that the drones were delivered as part of this action has led to some speculation that the two events may be linked.

If true, it would be further evidence that the coveted drones have given Turkey a particularly powerful leverage in achieving its diplomatic goals. The Bayraktar has now probably been sold in 24 countries, including Ukraine.

While many of these sales have raised eyebrows in the past, the war in Ukraine has reformed the Bayraktar’s image for many, as we previously reported. The weapon has an almost mythical status in Ukraine, where popular songs have been produced about it and pets have been named after it. Earlier this month, the love affair deepened when Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced plans to build a Baykar factory (the company that makes the Bayraktar drone) in Ukraine.

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Henri Barkey, a Lehigh University professor and adjunct senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations, says it’s unclear at this point whether Turkey is trying to gain anything specific by selling Bayraktar drones to the UAE. It might just be general goodwill that Turkey is after. As Barkey says, “Turkey is trying to capitalize on the good press Bayraktar drones have received, particularly in the Ukraine conflict. The more they sell, the more attention they get and the more money they make,” says Barkey.

A week after Zelenskyj’s announcement videos surfaced online showing the Turkish drones being used by Azerbaijani forces to bomb Armenian targets. The bombings were part of recent attacks by Azerbaijani forces inside Armenia’s borders. The drones played a crucial role in helping Azerbaijan defeat Armenia in a 2020 war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, ending a twenty-year military advantage the latter held over the former. The effectiveness of drones in combat has greatly enhanced Ankara’s influence and status in the region.

Critics point out that at the same time that the Bayrakter is being praised for helping to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty, the drones are supporting Azerbaijan’s encroachment on Armenia’s sovereignty. This flexibility in who Turkey sells its drones to is another reason why the guns are proving to be such an effective foreign policy tool; it allows Turkey to overcome geopolitics and make friends from all corners of the world.

Joe Dyke, investigator at Airwars, which tracks civilian victims of airstrikes typical of international military interventions, says Bayraktar “has given Turkey a soft power it didn’t have in the munitions area.” It, he adds, has had a “major impact” by helping Turkey-backed militaries and militias win victories in conflicts in northern Syria, Libya and the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region. But he also says these were conflicts fought against Russian-backed forces, and it remains to be seen how the drones would fare against more sophisticated militaries.

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For now, however, Turkey is successfully flexing its muscles on the international stage, providing technologies that less militarily advanced countries cannot resist.

ON THE WORLD NEWS:

San Francisco lawmakers have passed a controversial new law designed to expand police surveillance. Privacy advocates are sounding the alarm over the policy, approved by the San Francisco board of directors last week, that will allow law enforcement officers to monitor live footage from thousands of private security cameras without a search warrant, so long as the companies and individuals who own the cameras issue the police permission.

According to the legislation, police officers can monitor the cameras for crime investigations and “significant events involving public safety concerns”. Critics argue that the policy is too broad and gives law enforcement a blank check for widespread surveillance, including surveillance of political protests under the umbrella of “public safety concerns”. A senior manager who unsuccessfully argued against the plan said: “It feels like we’re returning more powers to the police department to monitor our activities when we speak out against the government. It’s getting scarier in this country.”

The collection of biometric data will soon take place at Morocco’s land border with the EU. The Spanish government recently announced plans to introduce a new “entry and exit” policy along the Tarjal border that separates Morocco from Ceuta, an autonomous Spanish city in the North African country. The crossing, one of the European Union’s only two land borders with Africa, is one of the most fortified in the world, lined with multiple layers of towering chain-link fences, barbed wire and CCTV. Now add biometric data collection to the list. Spain’s newly announced “border control” program, part of the European Commission’s “Smart Border” package, will collect the biometric data of anyone traveling from Morocco to Ceuta. Madrid’s announcement comes just months after Tarjal reopened after two years of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. We have reported extensively on the extension of surveillance along the borders. More articles can be found here and here.

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Call it Instagram’s pipeline to prison. A young Russian beauty influencer faces six years in prison for her activities on the social media platform. While Instagram has been blocked in the country since March, scores of Russians are still accessing the app through virtual private networks or VPNs. It’s unclear why police targeted 18-year-old beauty and fashion influencer Veronika Loginova. In a statement posted to Instagram, Loginova said police officers showed up at her home and threatened her with a six-year prison sentence. your crime? “Taking measures to lure users to Facebook and Instagram,” according to Russia’s state communications agency, which “may be considered a form of participation in the activities of an extremist organization.” “I now face 6 years in prison for maintaining Instagram,” she wrote. “Me? 18-year-old girl, fashion blogger? A person who writes about mental health support and has never touched on a political agenda on this blog? This is not normal.”

This week’s newsletter is curated by Coda’s Staff Reporter Erica Hellerstein. Rebekah Robinson and Rayan El Amine contributed to this issue.

From biometrics to surveillance, when people abuse power in technology, the rest of us suffer